|The Evolution of Helen’s dorp|
|Tuesday, 16 February 2010 07:39|
This is an extract from an article that appeared in Spotlight magazine
The evolution of Helen's dorp
A long-time fan of Nieu-Bethesda, Stef Porter stopped by to check out what's new - and not!
Not that much has changed in Nieu-Bethesda since a group of local farmers got together in 1875 and petitioned to set up a church closer than the one in Graaff-Reinet (then a sevenhour ride away). If you ask residents why their town remains undeveloped, they'll most probably tell you it's because of critical mass; there just aren't the numbers to support even small changes, much less major infrastructural ones. This, despite the fact that Helen Martins' Owl House makes it one of the most visited dorps in the country. Ask those same residents if the lack of progress is a good or bad thing and you'll have an evening-long debate on your hands.
But for all that, there has been some progress, although compromise is probably a better word for it. The two perennial issues of the town - whether or not to tar the main road and/or install street lights - have both been addressed in a typically Bethesda way: the adjoining township got street lights recently, but the village stayed 'star friendly'; and the dirt road stays dirt but major roadworks have made it much smoother.
What's new in town
The much-loved Waenhuis bar at the four-way stop on the main street has reopened and is a good spot for light meals and chitchat with locals. And there's even a telly now, just in case you're feeling a bit cut off from the outside world.
The popular Outsiders restaurant, previously on the main road, is now in a beautiful old building diagonally opposite the Owl House. Owners Ian and Katrin Allemann also run a selection of accommodation in town, from a backpackers in town, from a backpackers to the old converted water tower with its funky round bedroom. The well-travelled pair's easygoing hospitality will make you feel at home right away.
There's still no petrol station in town, and Mark Wilby's Ibis Gallery, which for a while promised national renown, sits empty and un-loved with its trademark dart still sticking in the outside wall. And everyone still misses Egbert, Nieu-Bethesda's idiosyncratic, book-loving, irascible unofficial mayor, who died suddenly a few years ago. His presence remains though - he was as much a part of the fabric of the town as Helen Martins.
Thirty-three years after killing herself, Martins' quirky Owl House continues
to attract thousands of visitors a year, who come to marvel at her
The post office is very quaint, unlike anything you'll see outside of, say,
Matjiesfontein. It houses a coffee shop and gift shop called Nina's which,
Down the road in New Street the hairdresser, Michelle Cilliers, is still doing
a good trade in highlights and town chatter. She initially opened
Things to do
Fossil Beds, AfriCAn CAts, And A trAin CAlled tuBBy There's plenty to do in and around Nieu-Bethesda. Few visitors realise that before Helen Martins, the dorp's claim to fame was as an important centre for fossil beds. Today there is a fossil centre alongside the Owl House, from where you can take a guided walk down through the dry riverbed dividing the town. There is also a museum of sorts, explaining the excavations and seabed theory (most of the Karoo was once under a vast body of water) and for anyone seriously interested where in major finds, a trip to the nearby farm and fossil museum at Ganora, eight kilometres away on the Middelburg road, is essential.
While you're out that way, keep going on the Middelburg road until shortly
before the tarred N9. At the Blaauwater signpost turn left and head to Charles
Kingwill's farm of the same name. The family has been in the area for generations
and his land extends up the majestic
The rest of a day out is best spent visiting Pred-A-Tours, a rehabilitation sanctuary for small African cats some 75 km from Nieu-Bethesda near Fish River, on the way to Cradock. Here Richard and Marion Holmes have set up a number of cages to house small cats handed to them by farmers. You can get up close to see the threatened black-footed cat as well as the African wild cat, serval and caracal. Between the cages Marion has guinea pig runs, which she refers to as 'TV for the cats' - to keep them from getting bored.
Not that much changes in Nieu-Bethesda, but it's what stays the same that keeps bringing you back.
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